ST. VINCENT @ PARAMOUNT PICTURES STUDIO
Photos by Danny Hernandez Words by Kyle Smith
That Annie Clark premiered her new album, Masseduction, in LA on Saturday night isn’t all that surprising. But on closer look, one finds an artful PR campaign that released two singles, “New York, and “Los Ageless,” the latter a nod to our lovely, confounding home.
So for St. Vincent to debut this material in Los Angeles, on the apportionment of Paramount Pictures’ back lot that was built to double as New York City, suddenly everything was coming up a propos.
Many of this city’s endless series of branded events tastelessly cram overt messaging down target market’s collective throat. But the Red Bull Music Academy remains a series of curated happenings around town that manages to avert gross commercialism in the name of kick ass, accessible art.
With at least a couple thousand attendees partying on faux stoops like it was a Manhattan block party, St. Vincent first emerged far to stage right. The massive black curtain that concealed the rest of the stage had been pulled aside just enough to reveal Annie Clark with her guitar, in hot pink neon knee-high boots, looking part KCRW, part VHS-era Jane Fonda, and the rest indie rock royalty fierce fembot.
What followed was a ten-song refresher on St. Vincent’s first four albums. Drawing evenly from each LP, the set reminded the crowd of Clark’s calling card – the seamless genre hopping that escorts her followers from the theatricality of well-enunciated Broadway vocals to crunchy guitar shredding in one fell swoop.
Following dreamy backing keys during “The Strangers,” Clark finished up her singing in “Actor Out of Work,” and then strutted away from the microphone. As she explored the area to her left, the large dark curtain slowly began to reveal more of the stage – but no other musicians. St. Vincent was out there on her own.
In “Cruel,” she cooed above a nasty guitar hook, then in “Cheerleader” she made her way to the opposite end of the stage where she turned perpendicular to the audience, found a new microphone stand, and flaunted her backside as she sang, “I’ve seen America with its clothes off,” over disorienting strobe lights and vocal distortion.
As she commandeered “Digital Witness,” Clark fully assumed the role of musical dominatrix with mic in hand, riding a modernized Ray of Light that couldn’t help but be bolstered by some of that David Byrne street cred and bombastic backing tracks.
But if there were any doubt as to the viability of St. Vincent’s own artistic identity, her front-to-back performance of forthcoming LP, Masseduction, put it to rest.
Still the only person on stage, Annie Clark had re-emerged in a new costume, evidence of a metamorphosis, and harbinger that shit was about to go down.
Eno-like jungle atmospheric sounds bled in to Masseduction’s lead track, “Hang On Me,” and St. Vincent’s fearless provocations in “Pills” of “Come all you villains, come all you killers.” Time will tell if the slow jam breakdown outro, a decided departure from the angular guitar work that Clark is known for, will be found on the new album.
Paramount’s ersatz Big Apple is essentially a façade of brownstones that one might find in lower Manhattan, or somewhere off in Brooklyn. On Saturday, the large windows emitted colorful light to match the album artwork palette; red, oranges and purples. During “Los Ageless,” the windows’ colors changed to echo the greyish green that appeared in the video display down on the stage. Clark’s collaboration with visual artist Willo Perron for Masseduction was on full throttle display via the massive screen that projected myriad preconceived pieces to accompany each song.
Neon signs that hung in the windows glowed, too, exhibiting words like “BEAUTY,” “COSMETICS,” and “TANNING,” the implied mockery of our culture’s worship of aesthetics a continuation of messaging that has trickled out from the St. Vincent camp since the first announcement of the album, right through to the recent release of the “Los Ageless” video.
“Happy Birthday, Johnny” meditated on nostalgia and moved to climax with a lyrical confession from Clark that also appeared on the screen: “Of course I blame me.”
“Savior” got funky and precocious with lyrics like, “Dress me in leather… I can be your savior.” Lead single “New York” opted for desperation and neuroses, once again tapping in to that made the setting oh so surreal: “New York isn’t New York without you love…so if I trade our ‘hood for some Hollywood….”
“Dancing With a Ghost” and “Slow Disco” were spacey, laden with strings, and altogether a sonic comedown from a colorful presentation of a melodically colorful album.
Masseduction coda, “Smoking Section,” closed things out in more of a whisper than a bang. Clark crooned and pled, “Let it happen,” over and over, until she eventually arrived at the line, “it’s not over.” But it was.
St Vincent: Fear The Future Set List
01 Marry Me
02 Now, Now
03 The Strangers
04 Actor Out Of Work
07 Strange Mercy
08 Digital Witness
10 Birth In Reverse
Second Set —
01 Hang On Me
05 Los Ageless
06 Happy Birthday Johnny
08 New York
09 Fear The Future
10 Young Lover
11a Slow Disco Interlude
11b Slow Disco
12 Smoking Section